If you read the critics most see the summer film “Lucy” as an action-thriller with a rather silly story line. They rave about Scarlett Johansson’s performance, praise the visuals writer and director Luc Besson creates, but dismiss the story line as being rather standard sci-fi movie script. A few critics love it, a few hate it, most are in the middle.
I went to the film and was blown away, mesmerized by the ideas behind the film, and when it ended it felt like hardly any time had passed. I was completely drawn into it.
(Spoiler alert – if you plan to see the movie and don’t want to know what happens, stop reading now!)
The story line on its face is a bit bizarre. Lucy stumbles into a world of drug smugglers who have perfected a synthetic form of CHP4, said to be a powerful natural form of energy that pregnant women pass on to their fetuses during pregnancy in very small doses. She is forced to become a drug mule, carrying a large quantity of this drug under her skin. Before she can get on her flight to deliver the drug to fly from Taipei to Europe, she resists the advances of one of her captors and is kicked in the stomach, releasing a large quantity of the drug into her body. Rather than kill her, it starts a process where she is able to access more of her brain capacity, ultimately 100%.
OK, I get where the critics are coming from in terms of being skeptical of the story line. The idea that we only use 3 or 5 or 10% of our brain was debunked long ago, and a massive ingestion of drugs creating superhuman power is a bit much. But Director and writer Luc Besson is making a movie, not a documentary. Much of what in the movie is true – how our cells communicate, the way the brain functions, etc. The drugs/brain capacity bit is a vehicle to create a visually compelling action/thriller with a spiritual subtheme. After all, how “real” is Batman, Spiderman, or the Terminator?! It’s a movie, after all!
As Lucy’s ‘brain capacity’ increases her perceptive capacity expands. She can see pulses of energy in trees, electromagnetic forces emanating from cell phones, and the world around her becomes noisy as she can sense everything. She is able to manipulate reality – turn her hair from blonde to brunette, create an invisible barrier that can’t be penetrated, or cause people to hang helpless from the ceiling.
After traveling to Paris she meets a police officer (Pierre Del Rio, played by Amr Waked) who manages not to be completely freaked out by her abilities and becomes her ally – albeit playing a secondary role. She also consults a brain specialist Professor Samuel Norman (played by Morgan Freeman) who tells her she should share her knowledge. Pursued by the drug smugglers she tries to invent a computer into which she can record her insights.
As she gains more knowledge she not only can control herself and the environment around her, but she starts losing herself in the broader world. She realizes that time is an illusion, and that humanity is stuck in fear and repetition. Ours is an existence that is empty in comparison to the deeper scope of reality. At one point she tells Captain Del Rio to accompany her. “I don’t know what help I can be,” he says, realizing her powers are beyond anything he’d ever seen. “To help me remember” she says, giving him a kiss. As she gains knowledge she becomes less emotional – her understanding of the world causes her to realize there is no real loss, pain or sorrow. When Del Rio protests her wild driving by saying “people might get killed” she brushes him off, “No one ever really dies.”
She travels back in time, even confronting the real “Lucy” – an early humanoid whose bones were discovered back in 1974, presumed to be over 3 million years old. She can control time – speed it up, make it go back and forth. She sees the beginning and the end of our universe. Ultimately she disappears, causing Del Rio to ask “Where’s Lucy?” He receives a text message on his phone: “I am everywhere.”
Early in the film she calls her mom, essentially to say goodbye, but also to tell her she remembers everything, even the taste of her mother’s milk. This ability to transcend limitations and connect with the universal was for me very powerful. Besson’s imagination was not merely used to make what’s been called “a kick-ass heroine” but also to play with ideas that explore the nature of space, time and existence.
It was a flashy and extremely beautiful action film, with imagery and pacing that make it entertaining for almost anyone, even if they dismiss the poetic transcendent message. I like to think the Besson knows there are people like me out there who connect with an imaginative, coherent spiritual/scientific fantasy that actually makes profound sense to those who perceive it a particular way.
Because whatever one thinks, the movie’s transcendent vision is what had tears in my eyes for much of the film – I walked out of the theater almost stunned. Besson’s film was profoundly moving and I think it’s impressive that he can create such a film that reaches different people in different ways.